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Anaheim Prepares Behring Welcome

Pro football: City spokesman expects agreement with his NFL team despite threat of lawsuit from Seattle.

February 06, 1996|From Associated Press

As their equipment moved south from Seattle on Monday, the Seahawks were on the verge of becoming a Southern California franchise--at least for practice.

Bret Colson, a spokesman for the city of Anaheim, carefully avoided calling the team by its name. He said the city "expects to have an agreement reached with the new Southern California football franchise to train at what was once known as Rams Park in the near future."

Anaheim city officials released a statement saying they will meet with Seahawk owner Ken Behring regarding the practice facility "in the next few days."

City officials also said they are optimistic a deal can be reached to bring Behring's team to Anaheim on a permanent basis.

As of Monday afternoon, the city said no commitments had been reached, but officials hope to begin discussions soon on an agreement to make the NFL franchise an "anchor in the city's Sportstown Anaheim Complex, where it would play in a new football-only stadium."

The city announced last month it would construct a state-of-the-art football-only stadium adjacent to Anaheim Stadium, where the Rams played before moving to St. Louis last year and where the Angels currently play.

Meanwhile, King County prosecutor Norm Maleng said in Seattle that any government entity that signs a contract with Behring for use of a stadium to play NFL games would be sued by the county. But nothing was said about a practice facility.

As soon as the county learned of a contract, "Boom, we'd file suit," Maleng said.

In response, Colson said: "It is our intention not to become involved in any legal disputes regarding the move of the franchise. We don't want to do anything that's going to inflame emotions any further. We know what it's like to lose a football team and we are sympathetic to that situation."

Before moving, the Rams practiced at the facility known as Rams Park for 15 years--the length of time they played their home games at Anaheim Stadium.

Rams Park was previously an elementary school and is owned by the Magnolia School District. The city will lease the site from the school district and in turn sublease it to Behring's franchise, Colson said.

Anaheim announced over the weekend it was entering negotiations with the Seahawks for a practice site as well as a permanent home.

When Behring announced last Friday he was moving his team, King County won a two-week temporary restraining order preventing the team from playing its home games anywhere but the Kingdome.

Of course, that makes little difference now, with the start of the 1996 season six months away. And the order didn't prevent the team from physically leaving the area.

King County Executive Gary Locke brought up the Seahawks in a meeting with President Clinton on Monday. Locke was among more than a dozen officials from across the country who met with the president for nearly two hours at the White House to discuss the impact of budget cuts on local governments.

Locke gave Clinton a "Save the Seahawks" T-shirt and a letter expressing King County's concerns.

"He [Clinton] was actually very aware of this," Locke said. "He is quite a sports fans. He understands the economics of this. He expressed concern about owners that move their teams in pursuit of stadiums with sky boxes to make more money.

"He didn't really offer any help. He expressed deep concern about what is happening to all sports teams of baseball and football."

Earlier, Locke named Sen. Slade Gorton, (R-Wash.); Seattle business executive John Nordstrom, whose family sold the team to Behring in 1988, and retired Boeing vice president for government affairs Bud Coffey to head a committee to seek out local ownership for the Seahawks.

In Seattle, Metropolitan King County Councilman Peter von Reichbauer said a group of three wealthy Seattle-area people has expressed interest in making a bid for the team. He did not identify them. They would be the third potential buyer. The other two are billionaire Paul Allen and a Northwest businessman whom von Reichbauer has not identified.

The council also sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue asking for his support.

In Olympia, Wash., the Washington state Senate unanimously approved a non-binding resolution Monday encouraging state Attorney General Christine Gregoire and Washington's congressional delegation to do what they can to help fans of the football team.

Behring has said he is not interested in selling the team.

His son, Seahawk President Dave Behring, said in a video distributed to media outlets Monday that attacks on his father are unfair.

"He's done business his whole life in an open and ethical way. He's tried to work with the people for the last year and a half to two years on this project," Dave Behring said. "For the last seven or eight years since he purchased the team, the media has continued to issue caustic and scathing attacks on his character, and it's continued unabated."

At Rams Park on Monday afternoon, city parks workers cut grass and spruced up the area, but neither Behring nor city officials showed.

One worker took a can of silver-gray spray paint and sprayed out the name "Frontiere" from Ram owner Georgia Frontiere's parking place in front of the one-story red-brick complex.

Frontiere's spot was one of five marked in gold letters on a blue background. The others simply say, "Reserved."

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